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Trade unions call for law on maximum working temperature as British workers swelter in heatwave

The TUC wants better protection for workers in the heat as temperatures soar again

High temperatures can wreak havoc for bakers working around hot ovens. Image: Bernie Almanzar / Unsplash

As temperatures hit 30C in a country ill-prepared to deal with heatwaves, the UK’s largest trade union body is calling on the government to bring in legislation to stop workers overheating on the job. 

Bosses should be required to halt operations when indoor temperatures reach 30C, or 27C for those doing strenuous work such as manual labour, according to The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents Britain’s major trade unions. 

There is currently no legal minimum or maximum temperature for UK workplaces. The government’s Health and Safety Executive recommends a minimum of at least 16C, or 13C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort but, as with all recommendations, this is not mandatory. 

“Working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous,” said TUC general secretary Paul Nowak, “whether it’s in an overheated shop, a baking office or outdoors in the direct sun.”

The risks of overheating at work were on full display during a rehearsal for the trooping the colour military parade in central London on Sunday, when three soldiers collapsed under the 30C heat. 

This prompted Prince William to acknowledge the “difficult conditions”, thanking every soldier who took part. 

As well as fainting, working in hot weather can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, rashes, and – in the most extreme cases – loss of consciousness, and is most dangerous for older people and those with pre-existing conditions. 

Every year, around 2,000 people die in the UK from heat-related conditions – a number that could triple by 2050 as global temperatures increase.



A HSE spokesperson told the Big Issue: “There is no maximum workplace temperature because every workplace is different. Responsibility to make workplaces safe and healthy lies with employers. Workplace temperature is a hazard that comes with legal obligations for employers like other hazards.”

In the absence of legal protections to keep workers safe in the heat, the TUC has issued the following guidance for employers:

  • Sun protection: Prolonged sun exposure is dangerous for outdoor workers, so employers should provide sunscreen.  
  • Allowing flexible working: Giving staff the chance to come in earlier or stay later will let them avoid the stifling and unpleasant conditions of the rush hour commute. Bosses should also consider enabling staff to work from home while it is hot.  
  • Keeping workplace buildings cool: Workplaces can be kept cooler and more bearable by taking simple steps such as opening windows, using fans, moving staff away from windows or sources of heat.  
  • Climate-proofing workplaces: Preparing our buildings for increasingly hot weather, by installing ventilation, air-cooling and energy efficiency measures.  
  • Temporarily relaxing their workplace dress codes: Encouraging staff to work in more casual clothing than normal – leaving the jackets and ties at home – will help them keep cool.   
  • Keeping staff comfortable: Allowing staff to take frequent breaks and providing a supply of cold drinks will all help keep workers cool.  
  • Talking and listening to staff and their union: Staff will have their own ideas about how best to cope with the excessive heat. 
  • Sensible hours and shaded areas for outdoor workers: Outside tasks should be scheduled for early morning and late afternoon, not between 11am-3pm when UV radiation levels and temperatures are highest. Bosses should provide canopies/shades where possible.

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